Is leadership an innovative endeavour? – Response to George Couros

In January, George Couros asked this question and answered it with a definite “yes”.

I totally agree with his answer and his caveat that it should be an innovative endeavor.

My concern is that the urge to innovate seems to dissipate the higher people reach up the leadership ladder. There is certainly more pressure to follow the company line and as this pressure increases, the ability to innovate declines.

But when you see the challenges that are facing schools and organizations, if “leaders” are not also “innovators”, there is a danger of irrelevance.

George Couros

As George Couros writes, the inability to think outside the conventional ‘box’ can lead torganizations like school boards to become irrelevant.

Almost as a response to this challenge, Larry Ferlazzo has written a good series on leadership –  Response: Support Curriculum Innovations by ‘Failing Forward’

This three-part series offers a whole variety of ideas and suggestions from some of the top education leaders in the United Staes on how to support innovation in schools. One suggestion from Mark Estrada, principal of Lockhart Junior High School in Lockhart, Texas is very interesting.

School leaders and teachers must develop a growth mindset as Keith Heggart describes in a recent article.

  • Teachers and administrators must model a growth mindset

  • Create space and time for new idea development

  • Build time for self-reflection

  • Administrators must provide positive formative feedback

We are all familiar with the concept of ‘growth mindset’, and we want our students and teachers to embrace this idea. We don’t, however, insist that a growth mindset be adopted by school and district leadership. In my opinion, after working for years as an administrator in a large Ontario school board, a growth mindset amongst our leadership is sorely lacking.

I would argue that what we experience in many schools and certainly at the district level is a preservation mindset. Keep everything moving, nudge forward a little, pick up the newest fad in education, but basically keep things the way they are and celebrate compliance as the gold standard.

Those who do not accept this as the standard operating procedure are not welcome at the table.

So, while I applaud writers like George Couros, Larry Ferlazzo, and Mark Estrada who work hard to extend the reach of new ideas on leadership, I have to ask – who is reading these articles, and who is simply paying mouth service to ideas about innovation, change, and bold leadership?

If our education leaders are not overly concerned with real innovation, do they risk becoming irrelevant?

What Innovation is and isn’t George Couros

 

george Couros 2
graphic by George Couros (pg 24) adapted from @PlugUsIn

 

I am working through George Couros’ new book, The Innovator’s Mindset.  It is a great read and it needs to be digested slowly.  In the first chapter of the book, George writes about what innovation is and isn’t.

This is extremely important.  Innovation is the new buzzword in education.  Just saying that we are being innovative doesn’t make it so.  We all know innovative teachers and administrators, but as George points out, having pockets of innovation is not enough, we need to be able to innovate as a system (pg 18).

Innovation according to George has to do with creating a mindset that leads to something new and better.  Making change just for the sake of change is nowhere good enough.

Richard Rohr has a wonderful quote that has meant a great deal to me.  He says, “We do not think ourselves into new ways of living, we live ourselves into new ways of thinking.” (Simplicity: the art of living, Crossroad, 1991)  What I take from this chapter, is that for true innovation to take place, we really need to start thinking differently.  We don’t need to change the whole structure of education, but we need to constantly evolve to make things better for student learning (Pg 21).

What a liberating idea!  To be innovative we do not need to reinvent ourselves, but we must live our  way into new ways of thinking. Technology can be a part of this new thinking, but it is not an end in itself, especially if it does not produce results that benefit the student.

What does this mean for our school?  If we are to be truly innovative, we need to constantly look at the ways we are teaching and how we offer new opportunities for our students to grow.

Staying still is simply not an option, not if we are to assume an innovation mindset.